The SwapFest, Lusi and me

A couple of months of planning, lots of phonecalls and emails, a meeting or two and tomorrow’s SwapFest in Sydenham Botanic Park is all set … and along comes tropical cyclone Lusi.

I spent a great deal of last night awake – the Vege Grower and I got up at about 2.30am and moved my small orchids under cover, a task I’d forgotten to do in daylight – and heard the wind building, then a patter or two of rain, and finally got to sleep.

This morning it doesn’t seem nearly as bad as has been forecast. The winds aren’t as strong and we haven’t had torrential downpours. Instead the wind is gusty and reasonably strong but we’ve experienced much worse in this house and the rain is intermittent and light – so far.

The NZ Herald website expects the wind and rain to peak later this afternoon but the rain radar isn’t showing heavy falls, only the light end of moderate, which is actually useful in terms of the dry ground we’ve had, and it seems to be moving away from us to the west. Perhaps we’re far enough south to only cop the extreme edge of it; certainly Waikato’s forecast is worse than ours.

Track Lusi’s progress on this rather neat website which has a real-time animated map of the globe’s winds (move the screen image to your part of the world with your mouse so the green circle is over where you want to view, double clicking the circle zooms in, I haven’t discovered how to zoom out). Apparently the cyclone (now an ex-cyclone, but still) met wind-shear in the Pacific and it pushed Lusi, coming to us from Vanuatu, further west.

We’ll make a decision late morning tomorrow as to whether to carry on with the SwapFest – showers won’t deter us but high winds and heavy rain will. Notice of cancellation will be posted to the website and the park’s Facebook page.

I have packets of seeds and boxes of cuttings to sell to raise funds for the park so I’d like to see my hard work made useful. Come along and say hello – we’re open for trading from 1-4pm and Geoff Brunsden will have a backyard bumblebee hive on display, as well as talking at 2pm about attracting pollinators to your garden.

The afternoon is a chance to raise awareness of the Botanic Park project, as well as offering gardeners a chance to get some free or reasonably priced seeds and plants –  and to talk to one another in that all-important exchange of knowledge.

The idea for the SwapFest, which is a bit of a misleading name because traders can do what they like, whether it be give away, exchange or sell or a mix of any or all, came from something I stumbled across online where a woman in suburban California put a stand (something like a meat safe, I’m guessing) on her verge with books in it, inviting people to take one and, if they wanted, put one back. After a bit she started putting seeds in there too.

There are some good ideas here on starting a community seed library and plenty of ideas on the net for starting a seed exchange, whether online or at a meeting place. Here’s a story about a up Seed Swapping Station project that began in Hawaii and a personal view of getting ready to give it a go.

Apparently there is a seed library running out of the Kumeu Library in the greater Auckland area; the Southern Seed Exchange based in Christchurch is well established; and the Symbiosis Seed Exchange covers Otago and Southland.

Sharing seeds is a great way to ensure that heritage varieties survive. Go on, give it a go!

Sunday digest

Full of virus – headaches, sneezing, coughing and overflowing sinuses – so here’s a digest to keep you going.

If you live in the Tauranga area don’t forget to collect seeds, take cuttings and stockpile excess plants for the Swapfest at Sydenham Botanic Park on the afternoon of March 16 (a Sunday). It’s only a gold coin donation to have a stand, and free to just come, look around and chat to the stall-holders. Geoff Brunsden of Wildflower World will be giving a talk on caring for pollinators … and promises a surprise treat as well! Full details on the Events page.

Butterflies are part of the busy legion of pollinators in the garden but the famed annual monarch migration from Canada to Mexico is in trouble – the numbers arriving in the over-wintering ground are at a record low. The largest area occupied by the butterflies was recorded in 1997 and reached 18ha. This season, the area fell to 0.67ha. The culprit, experts seem to agree, is the disappearance of milkweed in the US. Similar to our swan plant, milkweed is where the butterfly lays its eggs and the caterpillars feed until becoming a chrysalis.

I was all set to be a bigger and better monarch farm this summer but we haven’t seen any caterpillars since before Christmas – my total released is a paltry six butterflies. The monarchs come and hang round the swan plants but ants are carrying off the eggs and wasps the caterpillars before I can get to them.

Mary Parkinson, the volunteer who runs the butterfly garden at Te Puna Quarry Park, reports that an Australian painted lady butterfly, thought to have been blown across the Tasman in the spring gales, has laid eggs. I spotted one of these little butterflies in the quarry a fortnight ago. They are often blown to the west coast of the North Island, but not always as far as the east coast.

See some striking images here – the winning photos from the Royal Horticultural Society’s annual competition.

James Golden is a gardener in New Jersey (and he is either in, or coming very soon to, New Zealand – so if you see him say “hello”). This New York Times interview with him about his life, the garden he has created (Federal Twist) and his philosophy of gardening is superb.

Orchid hunter (and heir to an English castle) Tom Dyke Hart was captured by rebels in Colombia and held for nine months, convinced he was going to be killed at any time. To distract himself he designed his perfect garden … and has now created it. Read the story here.

A thoughtful reflection on street trees (in London in particular and England in general) by Tony Russell, including the new threats to urban trees from climate change and increased global trade.

When I was a young thing living in London I had been working most of one Saturday in spring to meet a report deadline. One of my colleagues, and a good friend, who lived in Surrey offered me a ride home in his new car as I was more or less on his way. How glorious it was to ride along Baker Street (I think it was) in the late afternoon after a long day inside with the sun-roof open through which I could see the plane trees with their fresh, new leaves – and Vivaldi’s Spring playing on the cassette deck. Would it surprise you to learn that this was about 1983 and I’d never come across a sun-roof before?

Tauranga is a city that, for some reason, seems to be populated by people who dislike trees. Why? Beats me. I was recently sent a 2002 report, Projected Environmental Benefits of Community Tree Planting which uses Atlanta, Georgia, as a model. Among the key findings:

  • If tree-planting standards were applied to all surface parking lots in the Downtown Atlanta Study Area, mature trees would provide stormwater savings valued at $US491,000 and air pollution mitigation valued at $US7500 annually.

Go on, get outside and hug a tree!